Beautiful memories of a Ukrainian tradition
By Stephanie Oehlert, sales and marketing director
In reflecting on the horrible things happening in Ukraine right now, I was reminded of my earliest exposure to the culture of this beautiful country.
When I was little, my mom always loved decorated Easter eggs. She loved their intricate designs and sometimes would try to replicate what she saw. I remember her telling us about Ukrainian Easter eggs, called pysanky. She brought some home and they were just beautiful — and very similar to the ones shown in the picture.
Pysanky had bright colors and beautiful patterns. Mom told us that this art from Ukraine dated back centuries. There are no actual examples, since eggshells are so fragile, but there have been very similar designs found on clay, stone and ceramic eggs that have been excavated from the late 9th to the 13th centuries. Pysanky were traditionally made by the women of the house and were given to family and respected leaders. They symbolized the gift of life. My mom decided that we were going to try to make our own, which was quite an endeavor!
The unique thing about Ukrainian Easter eggs is the way the patterns are made. They are made with a wax-resist batik method. You use a tool called a kistka, almost shaped like a pen with a little metal funnel and point on the end. You heat up the metal top over a candle flame then dip it in a pat of beeswax. The melted beeswax turns black from the carbon in the flame and flows out through the point of the kistka onto your egg, much like ink out of a fountain pen. Anywhere the wax has been “drawn” will stay white as you dye the egg. You can add other colors and designs as you layer the wax after dyeing the egg. It can get very complicated, as the designs are very intricate. Adding other colors in layers takes a great deal of planning.
The first ones we made were somewhat primitive, using just white and one color until we got used to drawing with the wax and understood how the layering of colors worked. Traditional pysanky uses a whole raw egg. You want to make sure to use one that is as smooth as possible with no cracks. My sister and I still love to get together before Easter and make pysanky. We shared this tradition with our children, and it has become something that we love to do together.